Book Reviews

Clan Donald by Donald J. Macdonald of Castleton.

The last comprehensive history of Clan Donald was published in three volumes between 1896 and 1904. It was a monumental work written by the Revs. A. & A. MacDonald, the seanachies of the Clan to whom the author of the present volume freely acknowledges his indebtedness for the liberal use he has been able to make of the results of their labours in order to make accessible a history of the Clan modified only in certain respects by the lessons of more recent research.

The book covers the lives and times of the Lords of the Isles from Somerled, Rex Insularum, down to the fall of the Lordship in 1493 and tells the story of the branches which thereafter rose to prominence down to the time of the ‘Forty-five when the operation of powerful, political and economic forces sped the final decay of an already declining clan system.

At the zenith of their power the Clan Donald Lords of the Isles held sway over vast territories stretching from the Butt of Lewis to the Glens of Antrim, including the western mainland of Scotland from Lochalsh to Kintyre, and for half a century also dominated the north by their possession of the great earldom of Ross. Proud of their descent from Conn of the Hundred Battles through 1000 years to the great Somerled, they bore themselves as independent princes pledged to guard the political and cultural heritage of the Gael against the encroachment of alien influences which threatened its survival From Somerled’s treaty with Malcolm IV of Scotland to the last Lord’s fatal treaty with Edward IV of England, the Lords of the Isles asserted their separate authority against the central power of the state provided order and good rule within their own domain, and left a tradition of wise government borne out in sharp relief by the widespread anarchy which for more than a century succeeded their fall.

With the removal of their patriarchal head, the branches of the Clan were left exposed to the machinations of powerful families whom an unwise royal policy favoured with the opportunity to enrich themselves with the spoils of the defunct Lordship. Foremost among them was the Campbell House of Argyll whose adroit, dissension-provoking policies led to the ruin of two great families and to a fierce hatred among the rest which, more than any sense of loyalty to the Stewarts inspired them to become the victims of successive lost causes up to the culminating tragedy of Culloden and its aftermath.

The author, Donald J. Macdonald, 12th of Castleton, was born in Edinburgh in May 1897. He was educated at the Royal High School where he carne under the influence of Dr. William J. Watson (later Professor of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh) by whom he was encouraged to take up the study of Highland history and the Gaelic language. The Great War Interrupted his studies at the University and, commissioned into the Royal Artillery, he served in Egypt and Salonika until his demobilisation in 1919.

After a period spent in his father’s home in the Manse of Arisaig, he decided that the prospects of pursuing a successful career in Britain were somewhat uninviting at the time, and he accordingly joined his elder brother in taking up land in British East Africa under the Soldier Settlement scheme offered by the government for the development of the colony. There he worked and prospered until his great love for Scotland brought him back to this country to settle eventually in Edinburgh and provide the benefits of a Scottish education for his family.

For over thirty years he has been associated with the Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh, serving for many years as Secretary and for nine as President, during which he established a close, continuing contact with fellow clansmen all over the world, fostering their interest in the history and traditions of the Clan and encouraging the formation of their own Societies whose growth and development he views with great pride.

In 1965 he published his first book, “Slaughter Under Trust”‘ a short and factual account of the Massacre of Glencoe, which was well received and is shortly to appear in paperback in the U.S.A. Much of his time since then has been dedicated to the preparation of this volume – a task in which his researches have been greatly aided by an extensive knowledge of the territory it covers and, in respect of genealogical detail an especially fruitful relationship with the surviving representatives of the families whose story he tells.

In 1978 he and his wife removed from Edinburgh to Ardvasar in Skye to spend the rest of their lives on the isle of his ancestors.

“Clan Donald” is available from the publishers, Macdonald Publishers, Edgefield Road, Loanhead, Midlothian, Scotland, price £12.50. Note: Now out of print and much more expensive!

Purchase this book from at our Clan Donald Bookshop.

The Antrim McDonnells by Angela Antrim.

The warlike family history of the McDonnells, Earls of Antrim emerges from the age of myth and mystery, romanticised in poetry and’ song by the Bards, distorted by folklore and clarified by modern research. This ancient and noble family traces its ancestry as far back as Colla, son of Ailach, daughter of the King of Alba (Scotland) McDonnells, MacDonnells and MacDonalds all share the same ‘roots’ they are an intrinsic part of the history of Northern Ireland and Western Scotland; and an important and robust clan now to be found in all parts of the world.

Angela, Dowager Countess of Antrim has both written and illustrated this impressive book on the history of the Antrim McDonnells; the style is humorous even satirical but her research is original and scholarly. As Sir John Betjeman, the poet laureate, says in his foreword: “She has an inherent comic line so that  her drawings are slightly risible, particularly on solemn occasions.”

Sculptor and Cartoonist, Lady Antrim was born in Yorkshire in 1911 the third daughter of the late Sir Mark Sykes, Bart, MP. In 1934 she married Randal Somerled John McDonnell, 13th Earl of Antrim. Educated privately she studied sculpture and drawing from the age of fifteen in Brussels and Rome. At seventeen she had two large works accepted by the Royal Academy and has exhibited in London, Dublin and Belfast in mixed shows and held one man exhibitions in The Beaux Arts and Hamet galleries in London.

The Antrim McDonnells is a large hard-backed book of impressive proportions, measuring 11.75 inches deep and 15.75 inches wide, with a superb full colour dust cover. There are sixty-six pages including thirty-one full page black and white illustrations. Each book is individually signed by the author. Obtainable from the publishers Ulster Television Limited, Havelock House, Ormeau Road, Belfast, BT7 1EB, Northern Ireland, price in U.K. £10 plus postage £1.

Purchase this book from at our Clan Donald Bookshop.

On Writing the History of the Antrim McDonnells.

In 1934 from a rural Yorkshire background I married into the Antrim McDonnell Clan. The turbulent family history fascinated me from the first, though learning about it was hard going, all on new ground. The complexities of Scoto-Irish history were then all but unknown territory to me, and the available books on the subject daunting to say the least. I became determined however to conquer the subject, and being an artist had the urge to translate the history into visible form. The exploits of Sorley Boy were especially appealing to my imagination, and In the early years of my married life I decorated the walls of my bedroom at Glenarm Castle with murals depicting the principal episodes in his story. Later as my children grew up and then a third generation of grandchildren I developed a desire to present this history in an easily absorbed form for the family in a way to appeal to all ages. Finally I found time and energy to tackle the task, which took me two years of fairly concentrated work. The pictorial side was pure pleasure to execute, but the historical research with the need for accuracy required a mental discipline which at times nearly defeated me.

While I was working on the book it happened that I was invited on a few occasions to give talks on the family to local Historical Societies in lame and Ballycastle. These talks made me understand that there was a wider Interest in the subject than I had realised and I decided to try and create a book to interest the general reader. Once finished the copious frustrations and size of the book presented a problem and I was very glad when Ulster Television took an interest in the book and not only published it, but turned it into a 15 minute programme.

My book is a labour of love, which is aimed above all at entertaining its readers by introducing them to both the heroic and comic characters that make up the Antrim McDonnells’ history. Angela Antrim

In Preparation.

The Clan Ranald of Knoydart and Glengarry: A History of the MacDonalds or MacDonells of Glengarry, by Norman H. MacDonald FSA Scot.

This first independent full scale history of the Glengarry Branch of Clan Donald, illustrated both in colour and black and white, is due to be published privately in hard-back and paper-back shortly. Enquiries from clansmen and others interested are welcome and should be addressed to the author.